The mysterious group which has tinkered with forest animals as if they were toys has set its sights on the hearts and minds of the townspeople…
…However not everyone is willing to lie down in the face of such a fiendish onslaught.
Flint, whose family was tragically torn asunder…
Wess and his son Duster, two thieves with a sense of justice…
Princess Kumatora, a mysterious girl who arrived from seemingly out of nowhere…
Destiny is bringing together those who would fight for good.
The Action Points crew came together to discuss the second chapter of Mother 3 and their experiences so far. This chapter sees Duster storm Castle Osohe in search of a special item. We watch as the battle party grows. Mother 3 is beginning to transition from a series of tutorials to something closer to a true expression of the gaming experience it offers. Some will love it, some will struggle, and all will grow to care about the Rope Snake. Without further ado, let’s continue our journey with…
Evan: I like this quirky little chapter. It encompasses some of the best things about the Mother series in my eyes. It has RPG tropes with a quirky fresh take – the princess is mistaken for a man, the castle seems strangely disconnected from this island village, and the secret path from the graveyard is filled with… lobsters?! Even the constant abuse doled out by Old Man Wess upon his poor, crippled son makes for some pretty off the wall humour in what would otherwise be a fairly conventional RPG dungeon.
Aaron: I found it to be a very “JRPG” JRPG. It was a throwback to the games I used to play when I had more free time on my hands, which is both a good and bad thing. I’m finding I have less patience for a long JRPG nowadays. I didn’t finish Pokemon Y, and when I realised Child of Light was going to be pretty long RPG, I was actually kind of disappointed. Chalk it up to way more responsibilities and also just way more cool stuff to do (full time job + podcast + game design + board games + other awesome video games + comics + Jeannie [partner] + self loving). It was also a nice reminder of all the JRPG experiences I’ve enjoyed before. I still had some reservations about this Chapter, though, which I’ll get into later.
Evan: I’ll be honest, I’ve been disappointed that other people haven’t immediately felt the same draw that I feel, but I’ve been grateful that you’ve all come along for the ride.
Aaron: I empathise with that. It’s not easy to put yourself out there with something that you love (e.g. how I feel about Dream Quest sometimes) but I like that we can have a discussion about our own approaches to the game without any defensiveness on Evan’s part. It’s also nice to see how we each approach it, coloured by our different past experiences (Dan not having played many JRPGs, I’ve played a fair few in my time, Adam not being on Twitter. Damn it, Adam. I can’t make this joke anymore. Why do you not want me to have nice things? Now you’re on Twitter, I want nothing more than for you to leave).
Dan: The last satisfying grindy RPG that I had a liking towards was Knights of Pen and Paper. Who knows what before then… Pokemon Yellow? Paper Mario? I like an RPG for an elegant tech tree, and this seems like the minutiae typical of RPGs were an afterthought to the story in this case. For Mother 3, the grind just felt like a tedium that just interfered with the story at large. Not feeling the rhythm, I’d just rather button mash to get to the next conversation. Is there a book, or a transcript of this?
Evan: Funny you should say that… I have some gifts for you all… *Evan takes out copies of The Mother 3 Handbook for everyone*
Adam: I do want to like it, and I can feel a fun experience lying underneath the surface, with a mucky layer of JRPG dirt on top that I want to wipe clean. The writing is witty, the story structure is at least unconventional, and the pixel art is lovely. The boogie-dance, the kind-of-friendly zombies, the rope snake, the obvious fetch quest that gets flipped on its head, that was all a lot of fun.
Aaron: By unconventional story structure, you mean having each so-called chapter so far feel like yet another prologue? I played a bit of Chapter 3 and it also feels like another prologue. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good prologue. I actually really liked the Roxas prologue in Kingdom Hearts 2. Hmmm… Actually, now that I think of it, maybe I wouldn’t like the Roxas prologue now. Am I just becoming ever more impatient? Specifically with Mother 3, the chapters all feel like prologues to different stories and I’m just not seeing how they connect yet. It’s possible that this is just because of the long delay I took between chapters, because now that I’m writing about it I’m finding myself less bothered by it. If this was a book, I’d be quite happy to put up with it. Chalk it up to the subjectivity of no media being consumed without context.
Evan: Yeah, knowing what’s coming later, I’m happy to follow all these separate threads of story. I like how there’s less of a structure at this point. Mother 3 loves it’s single-use sprites. We get to see an excellent, butt-shaking boogie that opens a secret door. Mechanisms and events throughout the castle use sprite animations that won’t happen anywhere else in the game. Its hand-crafted artwork definitely holds up well. 2006 was centuries ago in videogame terms, and I feel like Mother 3 will look beautiful for many years to come.
Dan: Duster’s head is too big. Is he a moron or just drawn that way? The sprite design is cool and well thought out. Everything likes to jiggle a bit in this chapter, perhaps a foreshadowing of Wess’ boogie in the latter half?
Aaron: I love that silly dance that Wess does. That was the highlight of this chapter for me. Thinking back to the grief scene with Flint as well, the sprite animation has been pretty ace.
Adam: The art is lovely, and the writing is lots of fun, which makes the gameplay all the more frustrating. I really think I only got through this chapter feeling at all good about it because I was playing it on an emulator with a quick-save feature. Without that, the combat would have felt grindy, the bosses would have been too hard, and the fun would have been gradually sucked out of the experience.
Evan: Yeah, it’s hard for me to be certain of how much easier it is knowing what I know after my many play-throughs. How are you finding the characterisation? I feel like the dialogue and colourful NPC’s are a particular highlight. At this stage we’ve uncovered very little of what the enemy plans to do, or even who they are. Are you getting a sense of where things might be heading?
Dan: No idea of story direction at all. I suppose there will be a lot of more perspective shifts in the future to explain it, perhaps? Is no one going to comment on the pun naming of Kumatora (bear-tiger) in the bear trap? The names the translators gave are entertaining and telling.
Aaron: Now that you mention it, Kumatora’s name stuck out to me as incongruous, since the majority of the characters seem to have Western sounding names. I guess Hinawa has a Japanese name too. I’m guessing this is an artefact of the translation process? Characterisation-wise, I like Kumatora’s forthrightness and I’m looking forward to see more of her. But then you skip over to another character just as you introduce this firecracker. What a tease. I’m not sure what to make of Duster’s implacability. Is it a weary patience? Is he just too cool for school? The ghosts were pretty adorable too.
Evan: I loved Mr. Passion and The Artsy Ghost. Their battle text was a particular highlight for me. The character names all have interesting origins – Flint and Hinawa are named after guns, Lucas and Claus, apart from being anagrams, are characters from Agota Kristof‘s novel, The Notebook. I love the stories behind translation decisions made for Mother 3, and you can read a bunch of them over at mother3.fobby.net.
Adam: Everything does seem pretty disjointed so far. Like, what was the point of the castle area? Was it just to poke fun a JRPG tropes? Was it just a clumsy way of introducing the princess? I guess it was a way of introducing the egg?
Evan: Yeah, making fun of tropes is definitely part of it, but nothing is without purpose. Playing through on my fourth play-through, I’m actually finding myself able to combo rather effectively with the music. Understanding that it’s more like a metronome than a rhythm really helps. And actually using the hypno-pendulum to discover the beats to hit has made it genuinely worthwhile. During the previous three play-throughs (computer with keyboard, mobile phone, computer with keyboard respectively) I found it nearly impossible to hit the beat, but playing with an actual gamepad has made it so much easier. Are you finding it achievable after following my advice?
Dan: Nope. I’m failing hopelessly; relentlessly button-mashing to progress the story.
Adam: I managed to nail the rhythm element this time, which is a lot easier once you put an enemy to sleep and listen to their heartbeat, and it’s a kind of cool mechanic. It’s not quite enough to make the gameplay actually interesting for someone who finds JRPG game mechanics boring and uninspired, but it’s better than most Final Fantasy XXIVIXVI games I remember from back in the day.
Aaron: I’m still struggling a bit with the rhythm combos, which I suspect is due to playing it on an emulator. The music sporadically speeds up for me, and I find myself missing beats. It’s not a big deal, since the rhythm part of it is not crucial but it’s a shame since I actually like rhythm games.
Dan: Now I know why those annoying kids in Smash Bros. say those annoying catch phrases. Like I said, I’d rather play this with the sound off. The music, while catchy doesn’t strike me as the most compelling part of this game.
Evan: I’ll have to disagree with you, Dan. The anthems and themes are among the best of any video game, but I understand that hearing them over and over within the context of a battle that seems difficult could become grating. I still burst into tears every time I hear the Mother 3 Love Theme playing. My wife actually plays it during our church services as atmospheric music.
Aaron: I’ve got no complaints about the music, but yeah, I’m not really hooked yet. Again, I think this may be related to the multiple month gap between plays. If I do hear or hum it sometime, I’ll be annoyed I can’t place where I originally heard it.
Adam: I have to admit, I still didn’t find the combat terribly gripping, even with all the extra bits, but I admit I didn’t use a few of them. I would much prefer the an entirely rhythm-based combat system, where they went full Elite-Beat-Agents, but with RPG mechanics. That could be fun. Really I just want anything that isn’t choosing attacks from a list, that make numbers get slightly smaller until their number gets smaller than mine.
Aaron: That would be pretty cool. That’s actually what I was hoping Theatrhythm would be, but it fell a bit short for me.
Evan: I’d have to say that Mother 3’s complexity is easily satisfying enough, even at this point. Using all the Thief Arts and items and detecting weaknesses is plenty for simple old me to handle, and with almost no grinding required, I find my interest doesn’t wane. I don’t know how much the game has grabbed you by now, but I felt like I really didn’t want to stop playing once the chapter was over.
Aaron: Okay, time to throw down. Those brooms are bullshit. I thought they were just normal enemies and didn’t bother too much avoiding them and got dumped back at the start of that section. I actually just closed the game right there and then. To be fair, I was already quite tired by that point and was very ready for bed. Once I continued the game, it took no time at all to retrace my steps and then head to the next save point.
Dan: I want to continue just to know if Duster gets to punch Wess in the face for being an awful dad. The story is definitely keeping me interested.
Adam: I started the next chapter a little and I like the way it’s going, but I really hope they put some more mechanics into the combat to make it a little more interesting.
Evan: Again, thanks so much for joining me on this MOTHER of an adventure.
Dan: More like “Game of Groans”… No, wait…
Evan: Shut up, I’m hilarious.
Thanks for joining us! The Action Points Crew will be working through roughly one chapter each month. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section!